A friend once told me that the two hardest parts of a woman’s life is enduring middle school herself and then mothering a daughter through middle school.
Middle School Moms
As my daughter experienced being left out of new cliques with friends since birth and “mean girl” drama, I was shocked with what happened among my peers. Despite promises to the contrary, my mom “tribe” were unwilling to intervene.
Being blindsided by this was nearly my undoing. One of the hardest lessons I learned was that when it came down to it, the lure of popularity can trip up moms and middle school kids alike.
Rallying Help to Coach Our Daughters
When it came to overt bullying, lines in the sand were upheld. However, when it came to kicking a girl out of a group text, refusing to let someone into a small group, or gossiping about a friend within earshot of the mom, I could only expect these behaviors to be met by silence. I initiated several one-on-one conversations with my friends about helping our girls walk through these new seasons, to no avail.
I absolutely affirm the sanctity of mothering; it is tender ground to approach. Unfortunately, I realized the hard way that a middle school girl can tend to lurk within all of us, handicapping our ability to work through hard things together in authentic and loving ways.
Don’t Be Surprised
I tell my kids that no experience is wasted if there’s a lesson learned, so here’s my first lesson learned in the difficult terrain of middle school mothering: This is a tenuous and sometimes lonely mom season. Our culture includes over information, comparison, and a high expectation for success. In real time, we see things happening without us.
Let’s not be surprised when these pitfalls cause others to react in their own ways that may not match our response. We do well to lead with grace and brace ourselves for varying and unexpected responses even from friends we’ve had for years.
Control What You Can
My mom used to tell me that I can’t expect others to act like I would. The reality is that everyone is acting from their own context, and what seems obvious to me may not be to others. Together, despite the wounds, my daughter and I learned to control what we could, such as technology use and releasing our expectations of others. Adjusting expectations is one of the hardest emotional tasks in life, though it brings freedom on the other side of it.
I literally cried happy tears when I knew we’d turned a corner. After two years of being uninvited, my daughter was asked to a gathering and pressed herself to go. When she got home, she told me that when drama unfolded, she told the victim of the gossip not to worry, and to instead invest more deeply in healthy relationships rather than toxic ones. My preteen wrapped the story by saying, “Mom, I’d rather be home and lonely than be busy in friendships where it may be unpredictable.” Out of the mouth of babes.
Live at Peace
My kids often recall me referring to Romans 12:18 from the Bible, encouraging them to be at peace with all people. I would tell my kids to own their mistakes, seek reconciliation, and then proceed peacefully with others, though it may be more cautiously and possibly with lower expectations.
One of the best ways to mother in the middle school years is simply to stay close. Yes, peers are the primary influence in the preteen and teen years, but just staying accessible is a gift we give our kids. Driving the carpools, being at the activities, standing on the sidelines, and having family dinners are some of the ways to stay close to middle schoolers, even when they are more closed off emotionally.
Past the eye rolling, on the other side of the silent treatment, our steadfast presence will be what they remember most. Years down the road, when middle school angst can become the stuff of jokes, our kids will recall how dependable and available we were, whether we could fix it all or not.
Friendships are sometimes for just a season, but family is lifelong. No matter how brutal some stages may be, all of them can be places where we and our children can glean important life skills and learn that we can, indeed, do hard things.